After years of humming and hawing, I finally decided to play ice hockey in an organized league. Years of playing drop in hockey at noon had been fun for a while, but I become tired of having no goalies show up or sitting on the bench for 15 minutes while players took extra long shifts. So I joined a league in Vancouver, had a tryout and was placed on a team.
When I arrived at our first practice, the captain told me winning and losing mattered, but not at the cost of having an enjoyable experience. So there was to be no arguing or yelling and everyone got equal ice time. Sounded great to me; all I was looking for was to be a part of a team, get some exercise and have fun.
Apparently, I am a good skater. I play defence but was encouraged to rush up the ice with the puck into the other team’s offensive zone to put more pressure on the opposing team. The plan was to move the puck in and then pass off to one of my forwards for a scoring chance. The first couple of games it worked well, but it was the third game where I decided to take a shot instead of passing. I scored and was congratulated by my teammates. Later on in the game I did it again, and scored. In the third period I skated up the ice again by myself and scored again. We won 3-1.
I felt good, thinking I was the only reason that we had won — I began to believe my own hype and I continued to rush the puck whenever I had the chance, almost never passing to my teammates. It got the point when I felt like I had to score a goal every time I was on the ice, and the team would win or lose based on my performance.
After starting off strong, we started losing, although my stats were great. It was around this time I began to feel isolated from my teammates, although no one was rude or blunt about it. Most of the players treated me very well. But I began to feel separated from the rest of them, so I decided to speak to my captain about it.
He was very supportive and told me that he would never tell me to change how I play. But he did ask me one question: did I want to be the best player on the team or did I want the team to win? I told him at the beginning of the season the answer would have been I wanted the team to win and I still felt that way, but I also enjoyed the idea of being the best player on the team. But more importantly, I wanted to feel like I belonged.
So I decided to find a balance in my game: I took the offensive chances but never at the risk of jeopardizing my defensive responsibilities. And we started to win again. Now I know that we didn’t start winning because I had changed the way I played, but I did feel like one of the group for the first time since the season began.
A couple of games ago, with the score 4-3 for the opposition, I took the long skate (encouraged by my teammates, of course) from my defensive zone all the way up ice, zigzagging through the opposition and my own teammates. I skated to the left side and was ready to shoot when I saw one of our forwards skating up ice, trying to catch up on the right side, hoping for a pass. I couldn’t see who it was because the player wearing a full-cage mask, but I did see the jersey Number 12. Who is Number 12? I thought to myself.
There were only 20 seconds left in the game. I had to decide quickly, should I shoot or pass? I skated behind the net and then passed to Number 12 who was standing only two feet from the goalie. I placed the puck perfectly on the blade of his stick. As I saw him shoot, I felt good, knowing I made the right decision to involve my teammate in the play.
And I still felt good about the play, even when Number 12 hit the post.
“Wayne carries the puck” Toasty Ken @ flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.